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Public ‘must see’ report into £25m telecom project: MLA

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Questions: SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin

Questions: SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin

Questions: SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin

Politicians have called for a report into the multi-million-pound Project Kelvin – which provided the island of Ireland with a direct communications link with North America – to be made public.

A redacted report is set to be published in the coming weeks, but MLAs in the North West have called for transparency.

The large fiber-optic cable from Portrush to Halifax in Nova Scotia, was meant to herald a new age of fast trans-Atlantic internet links, with Northern Ireland being described as the new “optimal communications point” for North American and European markets.

Work on the project was completed in 2009 and it connects the cities of Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry, Omagh, Portadown, Strabane, Letterkenny, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Drogheda and Monaghan to Europe and North America.

The £25.7m project involved connecting a submarine cable to the Hibernia North Transatlantic cable 22 miles off the north coast to create a resilient telecommunications link to North America, with improved connectivity to the rest of Europe.

Global and local companies were expected to be attracted by a reliable, high bandwith, low latency telecommunications link to two continents.

But some politicians say there is little evidence of a boon for local business.

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The project was named after famed Belfast-born scientist Lord Kelvin, who created the Kelvin Temperature Scale, the basis of all calculations involving pressure, volume and temperature.

An evaluation report into Project Kelvin was completed more than a year ago, although it has not been published to date.

In response to a recent Assembly question on the status of the report, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said redactions to the paper are being finalised and the report will be published in the coming weeks.

While the full report has not been published, 'key outcomes' of the project contained in it have, such as massive decreases in latency with North America and Europe, and increased competition in the telecoms market.

But SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin said it is "appalling" that it has taken over a year to obtain a report that evaluates the outcomes of the substantial investment in Project Kelvin.

"Indeed, over a year after I began asking questions on this, I have still not had the redacted report, despite being repeatedly promised it," she said.

"I initially raised questions after receiving a tip-off that very few organisations in Derry have benefited from the Project Kelvin linkage. I still do not know if that is correct, because of the inability or unwillingness of the DUP Minister and his department to publish the information.

"Project Kelvin was promised as a major scheme for Derry, that would generate significant new investment into the city and open economic gateways to North American business. If it has achieved this, it is not obvious.

"The city of Derry came together, led by my party colleague and former MP Mark Durkan, in a major campaign to have Project Kelvin connected into Derry. It is essential that the city learns what the outcomes have been."

Claire Sugden, who sits on Stormont's Economy Committee, said: “I’m very interested to find the results of this report. I would be surprised if it has been a highly successful project, but if I would be happily surprised if I’m wrong.

“Assessing value for money and the opportunities it is, and could be, bringing to Northern Ireland – in particular the north west – is essential for knowing how to move forward with exploiting the benefits of the project.

“This assessment is a chance to revisit these opportunities and make any necessary changes or investments in order to maximise growth west of the Bann.

“We have a strong university presence in the north west, we have the Atlantic Link development zone at the very landing point of the cable this side of the Atlantic and as a result we have great opportunities for businesses to set up in the area.

“If this report is the impetus needed for the Executive to kick-start their economic commitments to the north west then it will be a good thing.”


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